As I turned up the street to the convention center this morning on foot, it was instantly clear that Expo West indeed has 65,000 attendees. The sidewalk was reminiscent of getting on a crowded subway or metro. It was clear also that there are over that over 3,000 vendors here as well; within 25 yards people had handed me samples of two nutrition bars, a coconut water and a berry tea. Thankfully there was also a person handing out free grocery sized cloth bags so I could put everything in.
So just to be clear, this event is massive. While scale is often equated with lack of quality, not so here. Everything is done well. One way Expo West is impressive is in how it takes advantage of educating the masses while they are in one spot. This year an educational focus is on gluten and its negative effects on the body. This years’ key note speaker was Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist who wrote the popular book Grain Brain. As with many of his talks, Dr. Perlmutter highlighted how repeated gluten exposure leads to chronic inflammation. When gluten is ingested, it degrades the gut barrier – the “firewall” that keeps out things that should not be in your circulatory system. This leads to an immune response – the body reacts when it sees foreign bodies – whether it is fast food from McDonalds or organic broccoli. This inflammatory response can trickle down, over time, into the brain causing brain fog or “grain brain.”
Another educational session was given by Elisa Bosley, editor in chief of Delicious Living and Dr. John Gildea entitled The Evolution of Gluten and Gut Health. The room had almost every chair filled with 50 people lining the side walls. One interesting facts from this session was that 20% of foods that are naturally “gluten free” like quinoa, have measurable levels of gluten in them, presumably from contamination during packaging. Perhaps the most shocking statistic was that of people newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease who are laissez faire about their gluten intake are six times more likely to die within ten years of diagnosis than people without Celiac Disease.